Runners World Articles: Archives - November 2001
Zero In On the Zone: You've heard runners talk
about finding their training zone. Here's how to get there yourself.
During my first decade of running, I only accidentally landed
in "the zone" - you know, that state of running nirvana
in which your body and mind feel capable of running forever. Not
knowing how I got there, I was never sure how or if I'd ever get
Not so anymore. Now I'm able to "zone in" on by daily
runs by following the simple strategies below. Give them a try,
and I'll see you in the zone.
Don't be bothered.
The lower your aggravation level at the start of your run, the sooner
you'll enter the zone, and the longer you'll stay there. So take
a few minutes before you head out the door to minimize common running
irritants. For example, avoid running routes with heavy traffic
or uneven surfaces. Make sure your running clothes and shoes fit
properly and are appropriate for the weather. (Nothing can kick
you out of the zone faster than being overdressed or wearing shoes
that pinch.) And be certain you've fueled up with a light, low-fat
meal about 2 hours before your run. You won't find the zone if your
fuel tank is empty.
Prepare to enter.
Both your body and mind need to be eased into the zone, and the
best way to do this is to walk for 5 minutes before your warm-up
jog. As you walk, tell yourself that you're leaving the world of
stress behind. Then jog for 10 minutes. Your pace should feel very
comfortable so that your body can adjust to any minor discomforts
associated with starting out.
Run with a rhythm.
Once your body is in motion, it wants to stay in motion. So after
your warmup, settle into a smooth, easy rhythm you know you can
continue for the length of your run. Don't let your stride become
too long, or your pace too demanding. If your initial running rhythm
is too fast, you'll tire quickly and never find the zone.
Break things up.
If your distance or speed goal for a given day is too stressful,
break the run into segments you know you can handle. For instance,
instead of pushing through the 30-minute run you had planned, divide
it into 4-minute segments with 1-minute brisk walks between. Tell
yourself at the beginning of each segment: "Only 4 more minutes
to go." Not only does this "segmenting" reduce physical
stress, it also erases psychological pressure, which will allow
you to enter the zone more easily.
Race to that Place
Most runners find it harder to enter the zone during races or speedwork
than on a regular run. But those who manage to race in the zone
often find it leads to superior performance. As with easy runs,
you'll want to make sure to eliminate as many running irritants
as you can and warm up thoroughly before you begin the race. Then
try these strategies:
Take one. Give yourself the first mile of the race to settle
into your pace. At this point, your pace should feel a bit too easy.
That's perfect, because you're conserving your resources for later.
Pick it up. After the first mile, begin to increase your
leg turnover for a few steps, then slow it down for a few steps.
Repeat this several times. Many elite athletes use this trick to
ease the body into running at peak capacity. By increasing your
cadence for only a few strides, you won't fo into oxygen debt.
Go negative. Most runners know that the ideal way to run
a race is to run "negative splits." That means you run
the second half of the race faster than the first. By taking the
first part of the race to ease into your pace, you create a relaxed
running rhythm that will encourage your body and mind to enter the
zone. Once you're there, you'll be able to intuitively speed up
as the miles go by (if it's in the cards for you that day).
Watch your form. Proper running form is key to remaining
in the zone. Try to keep your stride as smooth as possible. Avoid
overstriding, pushing off too hard, lifting your knees too high,
or allowing your feet to slap the road on footstrike. All of these
form mistakes will slow you down.